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Exporting Nicaragua's citizen security model

Nicaragua could be a citizen security model for other Central American countries to imitate, but some elements are harder to transfer than others, writes guest blogger Hannah Stone.

By Hannah StoneGuest blogger / March 13, 2012



• A version of this post ran on the author's site, Insightcrime.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

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Nicaragua’s popular police chief has warned that gangs from its crime-ridden neighbors in the “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) could move south, but it could be Nicaragua’s successful anti-gang policies that are exported northwards.

Police director Aminta Granera said recently (link in Spanish) that “mara” gangs from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras could move south, bringing the violence of the Northern Triangle to Nicarauga. She added that the Central America border control agreement, which established free movement of citizens between these four countries without visas, could pose a risk to security.

Granera’s fears about the northern frontier make sense -- Nicaragua shares a border with the most dangerous country in the world, Honduras, where at least some of the violence is driven by violent youth gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) and Barrio 18. The fact that these groups have not made serious inroads into Nicaragua is often cited as the reason for its far lower rates of violence. In 2010, the Northern Triangle countries all saw rates of more than 40 murders per 100,000. Last year, while Guatemala dropped below the 40 per 100,000 mark, Honduras and El Salvador saw rates climb to 86 and 70, respectively. In 2010, Nicaragua had a murder rate of 14 per 100,000, putting it some six times lower than neighboring Honduras' rate today.

Despite Granera’s concerns about border control, the Northern Triangle gangs have not been kept out by passport checks, but by social and institutional structures within Nicaragua. It is possible that, rather than the Northern Triangle exporting its gangs south, Nicaragua could export its successful anti-gang programs north.

For the Central American Security Conference held in Guatemala in June last year, Granera was asked to give a presentation on Nicaragua’s policing model to the delegates. "Nicaragua could be a citizen security model for the other countries of Central America to imitate" newspaper El Nuevo Diaro reported proudly that month (in Spanish).

Granera recommends that the northern countries bring in crime prevention schemes, rather than focusing on repressive policies. She is closely associated with her country's security strategy, having been chief of police since 2006, and a member of the force since 1990. For Granera, programs to combat youth violence, rehabilitate criminals and build institutions are urgently needed in the Northern Triangle countries. She has said that because of the situation in these countries the authorities are not thinking about these kind of crime prevention policies, which have an impact in the medium and long term, due to the pressing need to confront crime in the short term.

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